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Career of Charlemagne, by Guizot, Francois P. G.

Life of Charlemagne

World History Center

Holy Roman Empire, The
Book: Chapter VI: Carolingian And Italian Emperors.
Author: Bryce, James
Date: 1901

Page Seven

Chapter VI: Carolingian And Italian Emperors.

Lewis the Pious ^1, left by Charles's death sole heir, had been some
years before associated with his father in the Empire, and had been crowned by
his own hands in a way which, intentionally or not, appeared to deny the need
of Papal sanction. But it was soon seen that the strength to grasp the
sceptre had not passed with it. Too mild to restrain his turbulent nobles,
and thrown by over-conscientiousness into the hands of the clergy, he had
reigned few years when dissensions broke out on all sides. Charles had wished
the Empire to continue one, under the supremacy of a single Emperor, but with
its several parts, Lombardy, Aquitaine, Austrasia, Bavaria, each a kingdom
held by a scion of the reigning house. A scheme dangerous in itself, and
rendered more so by the absence or neglect of regular rules of succession,
could with difficulty have been managed by a wise and firm monarch. Lewis
tried in vain to satisfy his sons (Lothar, Lewis, and Charles) by dividing and
redividing: they rebelled; he was deposed, and forced by the bishops to do
penance; again restored, but without power, a tool in the hands of contending
factions. On his death the sons flew to arms, and the first of the dynastic
quarrels of modern Europe was fought out on the field of Fontenay. In the
partition treaty of Verdun which followed, the Teutonic principle of equal
division among heirs triumphed over the Roman one of the transmission of an
indivisible Empire; the practical sovereignty of all three brothers was
admitted in their respective territories, a barren precedence only reserved to
Lothar, with the imperial title which he, as the eldest, already enjoyed. A
more important result was the separation of the Gaulish and German
nationalities. Their difference of feeling, shewn already in the support of
Lewis the Pious by the Germans against the Gallo-Franks and the Church ^2,
took now a permanent shape: modern Germany proclaims the era of A.D. 843 the
beginning of her national existence, and celebrated its thousandth anniversary
thirty-two years ago. To Charles the Bald was given Francia Occidentalis,
that is to say, Neustria and Aquitaine; to Lothar, who as Emperor must possess
the two capitals, Rome and Aachen, a long and narrow kingdom stretching from
the North Sea to the Mediterranean, and including the northern half of Italy;
Lewis (surnamed, from his kingdom, the German) received all east of the Rhine,
Franks, Saxons, Bavarians, Austria, Carinthia, with possible supremacies over
Czechs and Moravians beyond. Throughout these regions German was spoken;
through Charles's kingdom a corrupt tongue, equally removed from Latin and
from modern French. Lothar's, being mixed and having no national basis, was
the weakest of the three, and soon dissolved into the separate sovereignties
of Italy, Burgundy, and Lotharingia, or, as we call it, Lorraine.

[Footnote 1: Usage has established this translation of 'Hludowicus Pius,' but
'gentle' or 'kind-hearted' would better express the meaning of the epithet.]

[Footnote 2: Von Ranke discovers in this early traces of the aversion of the
Germans to the pretensions of the spiritual power. - History of Germany during
the Reformation: Introduction.]

On the tangled history of the period that follows it is not possible to
do more than touch. After passing from one branch of the Carolingian line to
another ^1, the imperial sceptre was at last possessed and disgraced by
Charles the Fat, who united all the dominions of his great-grandfather. This
unworthy heir could not avail himself of recovered territory to strengthen or
defend the expiring monarchy. He was driven out of Italy in A.D. 887, and his
death in 888 has been usually taken as the date of the extinction of the
Carolingian Empire of the West. The Germans, still attached to the ancient
line, chose Arnulf, an illegitimate Carolingian, for their king: he entered
Italy and was crowned Emperor by his partizan Pope Formosus, in 896. But
Germany, divided and helpless, was in no condition to maintain her power over
the southern lands: Arnulf retreated in haste, leaving Rome and Italy to sixty
years of stormy independence.

[Footnote 1: Singularly enough, when one thinks of modern claims, the dynasty
of France (Francia occidentalis) had the least share of it. Charles the Bald
was the only West Frankish Emperor, and reigned a very short time.]

That time was indeed the nadir of order and civilization. From all sides
the torrent of barbarism which Charles the Great had stemmed was rushing down
upon his empire. The Saracen wasted the Mediterranean coasts, and sacked Rome
herself. The Dane and Norseman swept the Atlantic and the North Sea, pierced
France and Germany by their rivers, burning, slaying, carrying off into
captivity: pouring through the Straits of Gibraltar, they fell upon Provence
and Italy. By land, while Wends and Czechs and Obotrites threw off the German
yoke and threatened the borders, the wild Hungarian bands, pressing in from
the steppes of the Caspian, dashed over Germany like the flying spray of a new
wave of barbarism, and carried the terror of their battleaxes to the Apennines
and the ocean. Under such strokes the already loosened fabric swiftly
dissolved. No one thought of common defence or wide organization: the strong
built castles, the weak became their bondsmen, or took shelter under the cowl:
the governor - count, abbot, or bishop - tightened his grasp, turned a
delegated into an independent, a personal into a territorial authority, and
hardly owned a distant and feeble suzerain. The grand vision of a universal
Christian empire was utterly lost in the isolation, the antagonism, the
increasing localization of all powers: it might seem to have been but a
passing gleam from an older and better world.

In Germany, the greatness of the evil worked at last its cure. When the
male line of the eastern branch of the Carolingians had ended in Lewis
(surnamed the Child), son of Arnulf, the chieftains chose and the people
accepted Conrad the Franconian, and after him Henry the Saxon duke, both
representing the female line of Charles. Henry laid the foundations of a firm
monarchy, driving back the Magyars and Wends, recovering Lotharingia, founding
towns to be centres of orderly life and strongholds against Hungarian
irruptions. He had meant to claim at Rome his kingdom's rights, rights which
Conrad's weakness had at least asserted by the demand of tribute; but death
overtook him, and the plan was left to be fulfilled by Otto his son.

The Holy Roman Empire, taking the name in the sense which it commonly
bore in later centuries, as denoting the sovereignty of Germany and Italy
vested in a Germanic prince, is the creation of Otto the Great. Substantially,
it is true, as well as technically, it was a prolongation of the Empire of
Charles; and it rested (as will be shewn in the sequel) upon ideas essentially
the same as those which brought about the coronation of A.D. 800. But a
revival is always more or less a revolution: the one hundred and fifty years
that had passed since the death of Charles had brought with them changes which
made Otto's position in Germany and Europe less commanding and less autocratic
than his predecessor's. With narrower geographical limits, his Empire had a
less plausible claim to be the heir of Rome's universal dominion; and there
were also differences in its inner character and structure sufficient to
justify us in considering Otto (as he is usually considered by his countrymen)
not a mere successor after an interregnum, but rather a second founder of the
imperial throne in the West.

Before Otto's descent into Italy is described, something must be said of
the condition of that country, where circumstances had again made possible the
plan of Theodoric, permitted it to become an independent kingdom, and attached
the imperial title to its sovereign.

The bestowal of the purple on Charles the Great was not really that
'translation of the Empire from the Greeks to the Franks,' which it was
afterwards described as having been. It was not meant to settle the office in
one nation or one dynasty: there was but an extension of that principle of the
equality of all Romans which had made Trajan and Maximin Emperors. The
'arcanum imperii,' whereof Tacitus speaks, 'posse principem alibi quam Romae
fieri ^1,' had long before become alium quam Romanum; and now, the names of
Roman and Christian having grown co-extensive, a barbarian chieftain was, as a
Roman citizen, eligible to the office of Roman Emperor. Treating him as such,
the people and pontiff of the capital had in the vacancy of the Eastern throne
asserted their ancient rights of election, and while attempting to reverse the
act of Constantine, had re-established the division of Valentinian. The
dignity was therefore in strictness personal to Charles; in point of fact, and
by consent, hereditarily transmissible, just as it had formerly become in the
families of Constantine and Theodosius. To the Frankish crown or nation it
was by no means legally attached, though they might think it so; it had passed
to their king only because he was the greatest European potentate, and might
equally well pass to some stronger race, if any such appeared. Hence, when
the line of Carolingian Emperors ended in Charles the Fat, the rights of Rome
and Italy might be taken to revive, and there was nothing to prevent the
citizens from choosing whom they would. At that memorable era (A.D. 888) the
four kingdoms which this prince had united fell asunder; West France, where
Odo or Eudes then began to reign, was never again united to Germany; East
France (Germany) chose Arnulf; Burgundy ^2 split up into two principalities,
in one of which (Transjurane) Rudolf proclaimed himself king, while the other
(Cisjurane with Provence) submitted to Boso ^3; while Italy was divided
between the parties of Berengar of Friuli and Guido of Spoleto. The former
was chosen king by the estates of Lombardy; the latter, and on his speedy
death his son Lambert, was crowned Emperor by the Pope. Arnulf's descent
chased them away and vindicated the claims of the Franks, but on his flight
Italy and the anti-German faction at Rome became again free. Berengar was
made king of Italy, and afterwards Emperor. Lewis of Burgundy, son of Boso,
renounced his fealty to Berengar, and procured the imperial dignity, whose
vain title he retained through years of misery and exile, till A.D. 928 ^4.
None of these Emperors were strong enough to rule well even in Italy; beyond
it they were not so much as recognised. The crown had become a bauble with
which unscrupulous Popes dazzled the vanity of princes whom they summoned to
their aid, and soothed the credulity of their more honest supporters. The
demoralization and confusion of Italy, the shameless profligacy of Rome and
her pontiffs during this period, were enough to prevent a true Italian kingdom
from being built up on the basis of Roman choice and national unity. Italian
indeed it can scarcely be called, for these Emperors were still in blood and
manners Teutonic, and akin rather to their Transalpine enemies than their
Romanic subjects. But Italian it might soon have become under a vigorous rule
which would have organized it within and knit it together to resist attacks
from without. And therefore the attempt to establish such a kingdom is
remarkable, for it might have had great consequences; might, if it had
prospered, have spared Italy much suffering and Germany endless waste of
strength and blood. He who from the summit of Milan cathedral sees across the
misty plain the gleaming turrets of its icy wall sweep in a great arc from
North to West, may well wonder that a land which nature has so severed from
its neighbours should, since history begins, have been always the victim of
their intrusive tyranny.

[Footnote 1: Tac. Hist. i. 4.]

[Footnote 2: For an account of the various applications of the name Burgundy,
see Appendix, Note A.]

[Footnote 3: The accession of Boso took place in A.D. 877, eleven years before
Charles the Fat's death. But the new kingdom could not be considered legally
settled until the latter date, and its establishment is at any rate a part of
that general break-up of the great Carolingian Empire whereof A.D. 888 marks
the crisis. See Appendix A at the end.

It is a curious mark of the reverence paid to the Carolingian blood, that
Boso, a powerful and ambitious prince, seems to have chiefly rested his claims
on the fact that he was husband of Irmingard, daughter of the Emperor Lewis
II. Baron de Gingins la Sarraz quotes a charter of his (drawn up when he
seems to have doubted whether to call himself king), which begins, 'Ego Boso
Dei gratia id quod sum, et coniux mea Irmingardis proles imperialis.']

[Footnote 4: Lewis had been surprised by Berengar at Verona, blinded, and
forced to take refuge in his own kingdom of Provence.]

In A.D. 924, died Berengar, the last of these phantom Emperors. After
him Hugh of Burgundy, and Lothar his son, reigned as kings of Italy, if
puppets in the hands of a riotous aristocracy can be so called. Rome was
meanwhile ruled by the consul or senator Alberic ^1, who had renewed her never
quite extinct republican institutions, and in the degradation of the papacy
was almost absolute in the city. Lothar dying, his widow Adelheid ^2 was
sought in marriage by Adalbert son of Berengar II, the new Italian monarch. A
gleam of romance is shed on the Empire's revival by her beauty and her
adventures. Rejecting the odious alliance, she was seized by Berengar,
escaped with difficulty from the loathsome prison where his barbarity had
confined her, and appealed to Otto the German king, the model of that knightly
virtue which was beginning to shew itself after the fierce brutality of the
last age. He listened, descended into Lombardy by the Adige valley, espoused
the injured queen, and forced Berengar to hold his kingdom as a vassal of the
East Frankish crown. That prince was turbulent and faithless; new complaints
reached ere long his liege lord, and envoys from the Pope offered Otto the
imperial title if he would re-visit and pacify Italy. The proposal was
well-timed. Men still thought, as they had thought in the centuries before
the Carolingians, that the Empire was suspended, not extinct; and the desire
to see its effective power restored, the belief that without it the world
could never be right, might seem better grounded than it had been before the
coronation of Charles. Then the imperial name had recalled only the faint
memories of Roman majesty and order; now it was also associated with the
golden age of the first Frankish Emperor, when a single firm and just hand had
guided the state, reformed the church, repressed the excesses of local power:
when Christianity had advanced against heathendom, civilizing as she went,
fearing neither Hun nor Saracen. One annalist tells us that Charles was
elected 'lest the pagans should insult the Christians, if the name of Emperor
should have ceased among the Christians ^3. The motive would be bitterly
enforced by the calamities of the last fifty years. In a time of
disintegration, confusion, strife, all the longings of every wiser and better
soul for unity, for peace and law, for some bond to bring Christian men and
Christian states together against the common enemy of the faith, were but so
many cries for the restoration of the Roman Empire ^4. These were the feelings
that on the field of Merseburg broke forth in the shout of 'Henry the
Emperor:' these the hopes of the Teutonic host when after the great
deliverance of the Lechfeld they greeted Otto, conqueror of the Magyars, as
'Imperator Augustus, Pater Patriae ^5.'

[Footnote 1: Alberic is called variously senator, consul, patrician, and
prince of the Romans.]

[Footnote 2: Adelheid was daughter of Rudolf, king of Transjurane Burgundy.
She was at this time in her nineteenth year.]

[Footnote 3: Cbron. Moiss., in Pertz; M.G.H. i. 305.]

[Footnote 4: See especially the poem of Florus the Deacon (printed in the
Benedictine collection and in Migne), a bitter lament over the dissolution of
the Carolingian Empire. It is too long for quotation. I give four lines
here: -

'Quid faciant populi quos ingens alluit Hister,
Quos Rhenus Rhodanusque rigant, Ligerisve, Padusve,
Quos omnes dudum tenuit concordia nexos,
Foedere nunc rupto divortia moesta fatigant.']

[Footnote 5: Witukind, Annales, in Pertz. It may, however, be doubted whether
the annalist is not here giving a very free rendering of the triumphant cries
of the German army.]

The anarchy which an Emperor was needed to heal was at its worst in
Italy, desolated by the feuds of a crowd of petty princes. A succession of
infamous Popes, raised by means yet more infamous, the lovers and sons of
Theodora and Marozia, had disgraced the chair of the Apostle, and though Rome
herself might be lost to decency, Western Christendom was roused to anger and
alarm. Men had not yet learned to satisfy their consciences by separating the
person from the office. The rule of Alberic had been succeeded by the wildest
confusion, and demands were raised for the renewal of that imperial authority
which all admitted in theory ^1, and which nothing but the resolute opposition
of Alberic himself had prevented Otto from claiming in 951. From the
Byzantine Empire, whither Italy was more than once tempted to turn, nothing
could be hoped; its dangers from foreign enemies were aggravated by the plots
of the court and the seditions of the capital; it was becoming more and more
alienated from the West by the Photian schism and the question regarding the
Procession of the Holy Ghost, which that quarrel had started. Germany was
extending and consolidating herself, had escaped domestic perils, and might
think of reviving ancient claims. No one could be more willing to revive them
than Otto the Great. His ardent spirit, after waging a bold and successful
struggle against the turbulent magnates of his German realm, had engaged him
in wars with the surrounding nations, and was now captivated by the vision of
a wider sway and a loftier world-embracing dignity. Nor was the prospect
which the papal offer opened up less welcome to his people. Aachen, their
capital, was the ancestral home of the house of Pipin: their sovereign,
although himself a Saxon by race, titled himself king of the Franks, in
opposition to the Frankish rulers of the Western branch, whose Teutonic
character was disappearing among the Romans of Gaul; they held themselves in
every way the true representatives of the Carolingian power, and accounted the
period since Arnulf's death nothing but an interregnum which had suspended but
not impaired their rights over Rome. 'For so long,' says a writer of the
time, 'as there remain kings of the Franks, so long will the dignity of the
Roman Empire not wholly perish, seeing that it will abide in its kings ^2.'
The recovery of Italy was therefore to German eyes a righteous as well as a
glorious design: approved by the Teutonic Church which had lately been
negotiating with Rome on the subject of missions to the heathen; embraced by
the people, who saw in it an accession of strength to their young kingdom.
Everything smiled on Otto's enterprise, and the connection which was destined
to bring so much strife and woe to Germany and to Italy was welcomed by the
wisest of both countries as the beginning of a better era.

[Footnote 1: Cf. esp. the 'Libellus de imperatoria potestate iu urbe Roma,' in

[Footnote 2: 'Licet videamus Romanorum regnum in maxima parte jam destructum,
tamen quamdiu reges Francorum duraverint qui Romanum imperium tenere debent,
dignitas Romani imperii ex toto non peribit, quia stabit in regibus suis.' -
Liber de Antichristo, addressed by Adso, abbot of Moutieren-Der, to Queen
Gerberga (circa A.D. 950).]

Whatever were Otto's own feelings, whether or not he felt that he was
sacrificing, as modern writers have thought that he did sacrifice, the
greatness of his German kingdom to the lust of universal dominion, he shewed
no hesitation in his acts. Descending from the Alps with an overpowering
force, he was acknowledged as king of Italy at Pavia ^1; and, having first
taken an oath to protect the Holy See and respect the liberties of the city,
advanced to Rome. There, with Adelheid his queen, he was crowned by John XII,
on the day of the Purification, the second of February, A.D. 962. The details
of his election and coronation are unfortunately still more scanty than in the
case of his great predecessor. Most of our authorities represent the act as
of the Pope's favour ^2, yet it is plain that the consent of the people was
still thought an essential part of the ceremony, and that Otto rested after
all on his host of conquering Saxons. Be this as it may, there was neither
question raised nor opposition made in Rome; the usual courtesies and promises
were exchanged between Emperor and Pope, the latter owning himself a subject,
and the citizens swore for the future to elect no pontiff without Otto's

[Footnote 1: From the money which Otto struck in Italy, it seems probable that
he did occasionally use the title of king of Italy or of the Lombards. That he
was crowned can hardly be considered quite certain.]

[Footnote 2: 'A papa imperator ordinatur,' says Hermannus Contractus. 'Dominum
Ottonem, ad hoc usque vocatum regem, non solum Romano sed et poene totius
Europae populo acclamante imperatorem consecravit Augustum.' - Annal.
Quedlinb., ad ann. 962. 'Benedictionem a domno apostolico Iohanne, cuius
rogatione huc venit, cum sua coniuge promeruit imperialem ac patronus Romanae
effectus est ecclesiae.' - Thietmar. 'Acclamatione totius Romani populi ab
apostolico Iohanne, filio Alberici, imperator et Augustus vocatur et
ordinatur.' - Continuator Reginonis. And similarly the other annalists.]